Secret Agent Man
Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Long Island’s Barry Sonnenfeld has an obvious affinity for men in black, be they alien watchers J and K, Fester Addams or Chili Palmer from Get Shorty. So do I really have to mention the dominant wardrobe color for his new UPN series, Secret Agent Man (8 p.m. EST)? Executive producer and creator Sonnenfeld is attempting a new millennium version of adventurous and amusing (but not comedic) spies a la Man From U.N.C.L.E. or the Flint movies. He partially succeeds.
Costas Mandylor stars as Monk, the most suave and best operative for the "agency." His covert employer’s status is rather vague, all the better to make this escapist fare. Monk’s partner is Holiday (Dina Meyer), a no-nonsense woman who trusts Monk with her life and nothing more. When it comes to agency politics, she’s less trusting of Monk’s hedonistic ways. Assisting them is agency resource manager Davis (Dondre T. Whitfield), who wants to be by the book but his loyalty gets in the way. Their boss Brubeck (Paul Guilfoyle) is in the classic Mr. Waverly mold – a tough bureaucrat who will occasionally bend the rules for his people, though you never quite know when that will be.
The series is very stylish, often subtly amusing and clever, though not quite as smart as it seems to think. The biggest problem is Monk. Audiences love spies, be it Peta Wilson’s leggy Nikita, the deadly seductive James Bond or James Coburn’s oh-so-cool Derek Flint, because they’re riveting. They seduce the audience just as much as they seduce their opponents. Monk doesn’t have enough snap, crackle or pop to grab us by the throat and make us watch. He's not charismatic, only but so handsome (when was the last time you saw the lead in a spy story workout in a long-sleeved, baggy t-shirt?) and has little chemistry with his costars. Whitfield is excellent as Davis. Meyer is doing her best as Holiday, but with each episode this supposedly smart woman acts even more dumb. Why?
The first episode dealt with Prima (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike Musetta Vander), an agent for evil organization Trinity, attempting to defect. Prima had icy hot eroticism in every move. So why was she nuts for the laid-back Monk? Because opposites attract?
The potential is there, but the writers and Mandylor seem to be so concerned with not making Monk over the top that he never gets near the hill. Push the envelope, please. Spies should keep us on the edge of our seat, not reaching for another cup of coffee.
Rating: B minus if you're a Mandylor/C+ for everyone else
Review © 2000 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs © 2000 UPN.